In this series of articles during the offseason, we will take a look at some of the greatest rivalries in Southern Conference football history. This series of articles will look at games only featuring Southern Conference teams facing off against other league members, whether it be in the regular season or the postseason.
East Tennessee State vs. Appalachian State
One of the forgotten Southern Conference rivalries in football is the one between the Appalachian State Mountaineers and the East Tennessee State Buccaneers. The rivalry came to an abrupt end, of course, with ETSU canceling its football program at the conclusion of the 2003 campaign.
The ASU-ETSU rivalry probably didn't receive much fanfare because the the Bucs were often not among the elite teams on the Southern Conference gridiron, but it was a game that always seemed to draw great crowds, as the two schools were only separated by about a one-hour drive.
The Bucs played their home football games in the 13,000-seat Memorial Center—also known as the “Mini-Dome"—and weren’t one of the Southern Conference schools that drew particularly well, with the exception of the Appalachian State game.
Appalachian State and East Tennessee State met on 47 occasions, with the Mountaineers dominating the overall series, 32-14-1.
Greatest Moments In the Series
Appalachian State and East Tennessee State saw some significant milestones occur when the two squared off on the gridiron, with one of the greatest memories in the minds of Appalachian State fans being the 2002 meeting, when Appalachian State picked up a 29-10 road win over the Bucs.
Though the win was rather lopsided, Appalachian State head coach Jerry Moore would be carried off the field by a couple of Mountaineer linemen, as the veteran head coach became the Southern Conference’s all-time winningest.
The 19-point win gave Moore his 111th win on the Appalachian State sidelines in his 14th season at the helm of the football program, surpassing former Duke head coach Wallace Wade’s previous record of 110 career wins from 1931-41 and 1946-50. Moore has nearly doubled that total since, and he will enter the 2012 season with 207 career wins.
Appalachian State suffered one of its most lopsided home losses in the history of the program in 1997. There was some irony in the 51-28 win on the first Saturday in October, as it was an Appalachian State graduate that coached the Bucs to the sound 23-point win on that afternoon.
Paul Hamilton, who was in his first season at the helm of the East Tennessee State football program, took over at a time when Buccaneer football was at its peak. The Bucs entered the 1997 season coming off of their first and only FCS (then Division I-AA) playoff appearance, and had soundly defeated Appalachian State, 31-10, the previous season in Johnson City.
The Bucs broke the game wide open, showing the nation why (at least for that Saturday) they were worthy of their No. 14 ranking, amassing over 500 yards of total offense en route to the road win over No. 6 Appalachian State.
Making the win even more impressive was the fact that the Buccaneers did it with a freshman quarterback, in the talented Todd Wells, who would go on to an outstanding career which would see him finish his four years in the Tri-Cities as the SoCon’s all-time leader in total offense. The win would mark the last victory the Bucs would ever garner against the Mountaineers, as ASU closed out the series by claiming six straight victories.
Two years later, the Apps and Bucs would play another memorable contest in front of a massive crowd at Kidd Brewer Stadium. The Mountaineers would hold on to get a 23-19 win in front of 24,343 fans, which at the time was the second-largest crowd in the history of Appalachian State football.
The crowd still stands as one of the top 20 home crowds in school history. The win also came on a milestone Saturday in beautiful Boone, N.C.—the Centennial Homecoming Saturday for Appalachian State, founded in 1899.
East Tennessee State provided the large partisan home crowd with some tense moments down the stretch, as the Bucs were nearly to the red zone inside the final 10 seconds, needing a TD to win the ball game.
With the nose of the football touching the 27-yard line and only eight seconds left, reserve Buccaneer quarterback Jamey Chadwell launched a pass intended for wideout Lamar Cooper; however, Mountaineer linebacker Weslan Hunter batted the ball away as time expired, and the Mountaineers held on for a heart-stopping home win over their mountain rival.
The win would be a momentum-building win for the Apps, who went on to finish the regular-season with a 7-1 Southern Conference record, and would finish in a three-way tie with Georgia Southern and Furman for the Southern Conference regular-season title.
ASU and ETSU began their rivalry as members of the old Smoky Mountain Conference. East Tennessee State claimed a 9-6 win in the first-ever meeting between the two schools on Nov. 28, 1928.
The Mountaineers and Buccaneers met twice in postseason games prior to Division I membership, as the two squared off as NAIA members in the postseason in the 1954 and ’55 seasons in the “Burley Bowl.” The Mountaineers claimed a 27-13 win in ’54, while the Bucs returned the favor in ’55 with a 7-0 win.
ASU claimed the last game ever played between the two mountain rivals on Oct. 4, 2003, with a 21-7 homecoming win on a cold, cloudy Saturday inside the friendly confines.